The Rise of the Growth Hacker…

In the world of digital start-ups growth hacking is a topic that’s polarised entrepreneurs ever since Sean Ellis, then a marketing consultant at Dropbox, coined the term while hiring his own replacement in 2010. Frustrated by the number of traditional marketing applicants, Sean specified he needed someone who could drive real, tangible growth and wrote a now famous blog post about it - Find a Growth Hacker for your Start-up.

“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth,” said Sean. “Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” 

Today, growth hacking has become a much broader term that reaches beyond the bounds of just marketing. A growth hacker is someone who spans both marketing and product; someone who is utterly obsessive about metrics and is always testing tools and tactics to drive customer acquisition. Growth hackers remain firmly focussed on the funnel of their business and use lean methodology to learn through a series of high-velocity and low-cost tests rather than more traditional and expensive marketing techniques.

There are a number of common myths about the unethical tactics growth hackers sometimes employ to drive growth and encourage virality. The most famous of all high-profile growth hacking examples is AirBnB, which enabled new AirBnB users to automatically post their vacant rooms on Craigslist. AirBnB reverse engineered the posting process on Craigslist to drive huge, immediate awareness and viral growth through the an entirely separate platform. Overnight, AirBnB became the champion of the growth hacking movement.

So, what is a growth hacker today? Growth hackers represent a marriage of marketing, development and business intelligence all wrapped up into one. The very best growth hackers are almost exclusively data driven and learn to harness the product to drive large-scale virality – which is very different from the typical performance marketer role.

I’m often asked what the future of growth hacking is and it strikes me that the recent trend towards smaller, leaner and more rapidly iterating teams offer a glimpse of how even large corporations can find success through growth hacking. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO once famously said that “if you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large” and I tend to agree. Books such as The Lean Start-up provide a great framework for product and service driven companies of all sizes and can teach you how to put principles such as rapid product iteration at the heart of your business operations.

But who knows what lies ahead for the growth hacking movement? As a marketer and entrepreneur with almost 20 years’ experience it’s great to see the traditional barriers between marketing and development crumble, giving birth to a new generation of data and product driven growth hackers.

One thing I know for sure is that growth hacking is still an industry very much in it’s infancy and that as our lives intertwine increasingly with the digital world the role of the growth hacker will become an increasingly prominent and valuable one. I’m fascinated to see what prominent growth hackers will look for when they eventually hire their own replacements.

Edward Relf is an award winning digital entrepreneur and self professed digital disruptor. He is currently Co-founder & CEO of Laundrapp. For more details visit